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What’s Driving Electric Vehicles at the Legislature?

Nationally there has been great interest in electric plug-in vehicles. In West Virginia not so much. The Biden Administration has identified alternative fuel vehicles, including EVs, as one means of reducing greenhouse gasses. The West Virginia government has given them a big yawn. That attitude is still prevalent at the 2024 Legislature.

The real benefit provided by EVs is in limiting further climate change — they have no tailpipe emissions. CO₂ emissions are created in the manufacture of these vehicles, just as with gas-fueled vehicles, but after being put into operation they produce none. Electric vehicles are also cheap to operate, costing roughly 2.5 cents per mile. They require virtually no drivetrain maintenance.

Although the purchase price of EVs is relatively high, a substantial federal tax credit has been available for years against that purchase price. Purchasers of electric vehicles in 2024 may be eligible for a tax credit as high as $7,500, depending on the taxes they owe for the year. Consumers can choose between claiming a nonrefundable credit on their tax returns or transferring the credit to the dealer to lower the price of the car at the point of sale.

Despite all the benefits and incentives, EVs have not been popular in West Virginia. We rank close to the bottom in adoption rate for EVs. In part this is the result of the high proportion of truck ownership in the state – electric trucks are only now widely available. Perhaps more importantly, fast EV charging stations are thin on the ground in West Virginia, particularly along Interstate highways.

But another drag on the popularity of EVs in West Virginia is government policy. The state offers no tax credit for the purchase of an EV. And the state charges higher registration fees for EVs. In addition to the standard $51.50 vehicle registration fee, owners of an electric vehicle in West Virginia must pay a separate fee of $200. The state justifies this because highway maintenance is funded from gasoline tax. While EV owners use the highways they pay no gasoline tax.

Still, there is reason for optimism. A West Virginia Department of Transportation survey found that 59% of the public favored switching to EVs. West Virginia also intends to participate in the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure formula, which allocates $45.7 million to charging stations in West Virginia. 990 new charging stations are planned.

For the last several years legislation has been proposed that would eliminate the higher registration fees for EVs. This legislation usually does not make it onto the agenda of the relevant committee and certainly has never received a full vote in either legislative chamber.

There has been similar legislation introduced in 2024 with, so far, a similar result. HB 4771, introduced January 16, 2024, would repeal the entire section of the Code relating to increased registration fees for hybrid vehicles ($100) and EVs ($200). SB 368, introduced January 12, 2024, would eliminate the extra registration fee only for hybrids but leave the fee for EVs in place. These bills are in committee and have not moved.

One other helpful bill of note has been introduced. HB 5212, introduced January 26, 2024, would require any new charging stations installed in the state for public use after January 1, 2025 to be “universal” and fit the vehicles from all manufacturers. This responds to compatibility problems with Tesla vehicles.

West Virginia has a Green Fleet Initiative for state vehicles designed to help the state meet its goal of lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the state conveys little confidence in EVs now:

Replacement vehicles will achieve the greatest level of emission reductions possible while still meeting the operational needs of the State and being cost effective. Alternative fuel replacement vehicles should be procured only when there is fueling infrastructure in place at State operated or local commercial fueling stations to support the operation of these vehicles.

Even though EV adoption in West Virginia is slow, some interest group is afraid that gasoline powered vehicles may eventually fall out of favor. HB 5186, introduced January 25, 2024, declares that the government is prohibited from banning gasoline-powered state vehicles and cannot require that state vehicles be powered by any non-gasoline means. It is not hard to guess who benefits from this legislation and, therefore, who is promoting it. Fortunately, it is also stalled in committee where we hope it stays.